A bulging disc was causing excruciating lower back pain. The patient had been out of work as an ER tech for at least six weeks. Barely able to sit, in his nursing class he stood- taking notes and gritting teeth. Normally his patient care tech job required he take care of others, but right now, he was the one requiring heavy care.
That's when Torrance Memorial Medical Center physical therapist Tami Ramsey, MPT, entered the picture and, lucky for the patient, so did Pilates. Six weeks later, Ramsey, who is BASI Mat Pilates-certified (the only certification recognized by the American Physical Therapy Association), had worked with her patient on a series of Pilates movements that left him pain-free with regained functional mobility and, most importantly, quality of life.
Pilates strengthens the body's core, or midsection, through movements that focus on the front, sides and back of the core (picture a cylinder). It improves posture, increases flexibility and stabilizes and lengthens the spine, resulting in a healthier back. Invented in the early 20th century for back rehabilitation, Pilates has been practiced by professional dancers for years, but it took time to become a "mainstream" form of exercise and most recently has factored more prominently into physical therapy.
"Sixty percent of our PT patient population has been sidelined with a back injury, and that is often caused by poor body mechanics along with a weak core," Ramsey says. "That's why we've incorporated Pilates into our back-stabilization program."
Not all back problems result from an injury or strenuous activity. Ramsey observes bad body mechanics at play everywhere-from getting groceries out of the trunk to loading the dishwasher. Too much repetition, limited range of movement, lifting with the back and not the powerhouse legs and glutes, bending from the back instead of the hips ... all can, over time, compromise the back.
Ramsey teaches patients the importance of maintaining a neutral spine, in keeping with the natural curves of the back and in making sure the head is always in alignment with the shoulders and hips. "Pilates complements physical therapy work, and it's really great training for everyday life- just being mindful of the way you move. That's one of the reasons I love it so much."
Tami Ramsey, MPT, says there are six basic Pilates exercises: pelvic curl, supine spine twist, chest lift, chest lift with rotation, side lift and back extension. (If an injury is present, movements may need to be modified; consult with a healthcare professional prior to your workout.) These movements work every muscle in the core and teach you how to contract and strengthen core abdominals to stabilize the spine, a must prior to heavy lifting. When the abdominal muscles are contracted, they protect the spine and act as a supportive corset for the trunk.
Torrance Memorial Pilates Classes
Adults who would like to improve overall strength and balance will find Pilates beneficial, Ramsey says. Pilates classes are offered through Torrance Memorial Medical Center on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. near Malaga Cove Plaza, just past the post office. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required.
View all fitness classes offered at Torrance Memorial.